A voice silenced in 1996 is brought back to life

cd review

August 28, 2008|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Baltimore Sun

During her short life of 33 years, singer Eva Cassidy was hardly known beyond her gigs at Blues Alley in Washington and at Pearl's, Reynolds Tavern and the Maryland Inn in Annapolis. Her two recordings, a 1992 CD called The Other Side that featured go-go legend Chuck Brown and 1996's Live at Blues Alley, got radio play only in Maryland and the D.C. area.

Only after her death - of melanoma in 1996 - did the Bowie native achieve her dream of being heard by a wider audience.

FOR THE RECORD - A caption to a photograph accompanying an article on the late singer Eva Cassidy misspelled the name of the lawyer who handled the singer's estate. The lawyer is Elana Byrd.
The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.

Through the efforts of family friend Elana Byrd, an Annapolis attorney who helped settle Cassidy's estate with her parents, a contract with Bill Straw of Blix Street Records was signed in 1997. He arranged to market the first two CDs outside the U.S. and has since released five CDs, including Somewhere, which went out on shelves on Tuesday.

More than 8 million copies of Cassidy's CDs have been sold; her recordings have gone quadruple platinum in England and platinum in the U.S.

Her sales numbers are expected to grow with the debut of Somewhere, which contains 12 previously unreleased songs, including two that she co-wrote.

Like the versatile singer who refused to be pegged, the recording is an eclectic mix containing something for everyone, including pop, R&B, folk, Appalachian, jazz and country. There are near-gospel tunes, such as Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors," and classic folk, such as "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose," and swinging country like the Patsy Cline classic "Walkin' After Midnight," along with a heart-wrenching, prophetic "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" - and my personal favorite, Gershwin's "Summertime," as I've never heard it and as it was always meant to be sung.

Among the original songs, Cassidy adapted the lyrics of "Early One Morning" from an English folk song set to music by Rob Cooper, and she wrote "Somewhere" with her longtime friend and producer, Chris Biondo.

On the CD, I could hear echoes of some of my favorites: a little Ella Fitzgerald, the raucousness of Billie Holiday and the vocal beauty of Barbara Cook. Their music, however, is different from the breathing immortality of Eva Cassidy.

She connects with listeners on a one-to-one level. Her voice is pure, her musical sense uncanny, her ability to define a lyric amazing and assured - "Summertime" seems to be uniquely on par with her best-known cover, "Over the Rainbow."

I listened to it over and over again; I had to figure out how she brought such fresh life to this Gershwin classic while uncovering its natural roots.

Hugh and Barbara Cassidy carefully guard their daughter's legacy while generously sharing her with a world of fans.

A retired special-education teacher, metalworking artist and his daughter's first music teacher, Hugh showed me and my husband the metal angel sculpture of Eva that he completed a month after her death. Later, inside the house, he dragged out a box containing maybe 1,000 letters from Eva's fans all over the world telling how her music had touched them. Hugh said that he answered every letter.

As custodian of her work, he expressed his regret that because one tape recorded at Blues Alley contained a hum, it had been recorded over, losing music that with current technology could have been salvaged. He also explained the importance of pacing when putting a recording in the right order, as he said Straw has consistently done.

Eva was also an accomplished artist whose work reflects her individuality and joyous spirit. This art is lovingly displayed on both levels of the house on the banks of the West River: mostly dream-like, near-surrealistic landscapes containing tall cypress trees, still ponds with swans floating, clouds that seem suspended, executed in her favorite cool and serene palette of blues and greens.

If, like me, you are only now becoming acquainted with Eva Cassidy, or are a longtime fan, you'll want to own Somewhere. Happy listening.

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